Voting for tonight’s Academy Awards is a closed process, decided through a secret ballot of more than 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Alas, there are no polls of Academy voters, and members themselves are barred from speaking publicly about the nominated films.
Yet the betting markets have settled on two frontrunners for Best Picture — Birdman and Boyhood. In fact, it’s not really close by that measure: no other film gets more than 16:1 odds at nabbing the top prize.
Part of that is because we’ve had numerous other award shows over the last few weeks, and either Birdman or Boyhood has received top honors each time. Further, the conventional wisdom holds that while Boyhood entered awards season as the favorite, that mantle has since shifted to Birdman.
We wanted to see what digital data could tell us about all of this, so we gathered data on every news mention or tweet about the nominated films over the last year, with a greater focus on the last three weeks of Oscar balloting.
We also wanted to know what people in Hollywood were saying. To do this, we ran a social network analysis on Hollywood celebrities to build a custom audience of people influential within the movie business. This group may or may not overlap with Academy voters (and Academy voters themselves can’t talk about who they voted for). Nonetheless, this is the group that Hollywood, and by implication, the voting population, listens to the most on social media. The audience was built looking at who this year’s nominees and other influential celebrities follow the most on Twitter. Viewed from a distance, the social graph we came up with looks like this:
Within this audience, as well as for the overall Twitter population and the mainstream media, we ranked the volume of discussion about each Best Picture nominee. We broke down the results over the last year (covering the release of every nominated film) and the last three weeks of Academy voting. That breakdown looks like this:
By this measure, the hottest movie is neither Birdman or Boyhood, but American Sniper, which has sparked passionate discussion over its timely subject matter and its main character, Chris Kyle. It is also among the highest grossing Best Picture nominees in history, and had its release right in the middle of awards season.
Hollywood itself has reflected this intense discussion, making American Sniper the most discussed film across all categories. But among the two films seen as favorites, telling patterns emerge. Over the last year, Hollywood Influencers split evenly in their conversations about Boyhood and Birdman, but Birdman has opened up a clear 21% to 13% lead in share over the last three weeks, reflecting its surprise wins in other awards ceremonies. And if anything, people outside Hollywood see Birdman as an even bigger favorite amongst the two, with it generating nearly twice as much discussion as the third top ranked film in the last three weeks. Other films that generated more buzz at the time of their release, like The Imitation Game and Selma, have faded down the stretch. And The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to be more appreciated by insider audiences than the general audience, with the opposite being true of the film coming in eighth, the Theory of Everything.
Trending this data over time can also show us why securing lots of buzz during release may not translate to winning the most votes from Academy members:
On this chart, movies get buzz when they’re released, when they’re nominated, and when they win other awards. And other than American Sniper, the highest release week peak among the nominated films was for Boyhood back in July. But during the last two weeks (as Oscar ballots were being cast), Birdman led in conversation, underlining the sense that it might be peaking at the right time.
Isolating these two films also shows the much discussed momentum shift from Boyhood to Birdman, specifically during the awards season.
The bottom line? Boyhood seems like something of a sentimental favorite. Hollywood loved it right when it came out. But Birdman has the late breaking momentum, and that’s been reflected in the volume of discussion between the two films over time. Which will ultimately be the best indicator? We’ll find out tonight.
Mapping Hollywood’s Most Influential
Our custom audience of Hollywood Influencers can also tell us something about social influence within Hollywood. The network graph we showed you above can be translated into a mathematical ranking of the most influential people within the network, which we’ve broken out by field — acting, directing, writing, comedy, music, media, and politics. One advantage to such an analysis, as opposed to looking at raw follower counts, is that it can measure the most influential people within an audience, in this case Hollywood celebrities.
Acting: Lena Dunham
Directing: Judd Apatow
Writing: Kelly Oxford
Comedy: Patton Oswalt
Media: The New Yorker
Columnists & Pundits: Rachel Maddow
Democratic Presidential Hopefuls: Hillary Clinton